President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam are pulling out all the stops to unveil a new Cabinet lineup before the president’s term expires on May 25, March 8 political sources told The Daily Star Monday.
The sources said Sleiman was determined to sign the decree formalizing the new Cabinet, regardless of whether it receives a vote of confidence in Parliament. The president has made clear he will not turn the country over to the caretaker Cabinet of Najib Mikati should the political powers fail to elect a new president, and the office’s authority falls to the government.
March 14 parliamentarians told The Daily Star the new government, even if it is a caretaker government by failing to win a vote of confidence, is preferable to a void, adding that even handicapped, a new caretaker Cabinet is better than the current caretaker government.
Nor is such an arrangement unprecedented. The March 14 sources cited the government of Fouad Siniora, which also did not enjoy a vote of confidence, and which was called illegitimate by its detractors, but managed to carry out its duties and issued decrees which were not overturned until March 14’s political rivals came to power.
These sources admitted that if this government fails to win a vote of confidence, the country will find itself in an unprecedented situation, but that does not necessarily mean the country will be left without a government to run its daily affairs regardless of the difficulties that it may face or the obstacles the March 8 camp may put in its way.
The sources confirmed that the current standoff was not a constitutional or legal matter, but a political one, the repercussions of which could prove extremely dangerous if certain media reports prove true and the current ministers refuse to turn over their ministries to their replacements.
The president reportedly hopes to form a neutral, inclusive government composed of names that would not be provocative to anyone, and would not appoint anyone who might resign after the lineup is announced.
The same sources went on to name a few Shiite figures linked to Sleiman who might be named as ministers in the new government. Some are reportedly military figures who have worked alongside the president for many years. The sources emphasized that the president would not make the same mistake he made by appointing Adnan Sayyed Hussein, president of the Lebanese University, who was a minister of state chosen by the president but after his election voted with the Shiite bloc.
One of the most important factors in determining the success or failure of the next government is the reaction of March 8 and particularly MP Walid Jumblatt. The Druze leader has made clear that he will oppose any government that is not based on national consensus, warning against an outbreak of violence similar to what happened on May 7.
March 8 political sources indicated that it was still too early to know Jumblatt’s final stance on the new government, although he would only support a Cabinet on which both camps agree, regardless of the names included in the lineup.
The sources said Jumblatt wanted the Cabinet to have political cover from both sides in order to ease rising tensions in the country, and thus was less interested in maintaining the March 14-March 8 balance than he was in soothing the Sunni-Shiite rift.
To this end, Jumblatt has abandoned the idea of an 8-8-8 government, despite his initial strong support for it.
He has now adopted the 9-9-6 formation in order to secure the representation of all and avoid the exclusion of any side.
The March 8 sources emphasized that any government, no matter how constitutional, must secure the popular acceptance of the Shiite community, which makes up the majority of the March 8 bloc. Announcing a fait accompli government, which Hezbollah officials have warned against on numerous occasions, would have far greater security and political repercussions than many expect, the sources said.
In order to avoid opening Pandora’s box, the March 8 sources predict that Sleiman will seek the advice of Jumblatt before announcing the final lineup with the intent of creating a list that will not anger the Shiite community.
However, the sources did not expect this effort to meet with much success.
Rather, they saw it as a desperate last attempt to steer the country away from the dark unknown to which it is heading.